6 of the best... London Jazz Clubs

Skiddle explores some of the best places to see live jazz in the capital.

Jayne Robinson

Last updated: 3rd Apr 2012.
Originally published: 2nd Apr 2012

There's a reason why for a century or so, people have been going to meet friends, have a drink and listen to jazz music. Well, there's probably a load of reasons. It's the old venerable tradition of the 'speakeasy' - the intimate supper club, where you can spend a relaxing evening admiring excellent musicianship. The smokey atmosphere may have gone, and some (not all) of the instruments may be a little different, but the feeling remains.

Jazz clubs can have a certain kind of sophistication that you may feel lacking in a regular pub. It can be a place to soak in the atmosphere and really listen. London, despite its blessings in many aspects of culture, has a surprisingly small number of dedicated jazz clubs. Yes, it's a shame, but there's many great places to go, if you know where to look.

And soon you will, so read on...

Hideaway Jazz Cafe

A newcomer that's done well to establish itself, Hideaway is a jazz club and cafe that opened on in February 2010. It's conveniently located on Streatham High Road, not too far from Streatham Train Station, and has already won the respect of the London jazz community due to a busy calendar that's full of diverse musical talent.

And asides from the music, the club also promotes weekly comedy nights, giving a platform for London's up and coming stand ups. They're also keen to support promising new musicians, and not just jazz ones at that. The club has played host to a great many promising soul, RnB, Latin and funk outfits.

Asides from the respectable performance schedule, Hideaway's food is certainly worth checking out as well. Foods are often locally sourced, organic, and prepared onsite. The food is seasonal, and the menu changes frequently. From firsthand experience, it is very good. The cuisine is a mixture of British traditional food and international dishes.

Hideaway also promotes public engagement with jazz (jazz outreach?), offering a ten week, Monday Night Jazz Workshop which is sponsored by the Dordogne Jazz Summer School. It takes participants from the basics and finishes in a live 'end of term' performance. At the time of writing it was £10 a session to attend. Hideaway is definitely a breath of fresh air and worth a look in.

2 Empire Mews, Streatham, London, SW16 2ED

View upcoming events at Hideaway Jazz Cafe

606 Jazz Cafe

Originally located on 606 King's Road (hence the name) - you'll find 606 now located comfortably in Chelsea.

The 606 has been around long enough to have established a reputation amongst the jazz loving community, and has been run by dedicated jazz muso Steve Rubie since 1976. The club attracts some of the bright lights of the UK jazz scene; Jamie Cullum, Hamish Stuart and Claire Teal amongst them. Quite endearingly, there's no stage, so musicians play directly in front of the audience, which makes for an amazingly close live experience.

606 can lay claim to the prestigious title of being the biggest employer of British jazz musicians in the UK, with two bands a night Tuesday to Wednesday, and one band nightly Thursday to Monday. Oh and the occasional Sunday slot. What this means is that the jazz fan should never tire of the variety of quality musicianship on offer. There's no entry fee, instead patrons pay a 'music charge' added to the end of the bill. In keeping with supporting the local scene, the club only hosts UK based musicians. You've got to admire that.

Due to the excellent sounds on offer, demand is high, and you have to book a table and buy a meal to get a place. Capacity is only around 150, and the place is usually full. The food doesn't always warrant rave reviews, but top notch live music has made the place a favourite of many jazz aficionados for many years now. 

90 Lots Road, SW10 0QD

Find out more about 606 Jazz Club

Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club

Probably the most famous jazz club in the UK, and sporting more history than the history channel, the inside of Ronnie Scott's (or 'Ronnie's') still feels a bit like the 60s to those who remember them. It's a place that music fans from all over the world make a pilgrimage to, and with good reason.

Named after its founder, the club was formed in 1959, and was originally intended as a place for British jazz musicians to hang out and jam. Ronnie did quite well himself as a performer, providing the tenor sax solo on The Beatles' Lady Madonna and on Phil Collins' 1981 hit, I Missed Again.

Want to know some of the club's ample musical history? Sure.  It was the scene of Jimi Hendrix's last UK performance, and has been the host for performances and live album recordings by the likes of Stan Getz, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Dream Theatre, Jeff Beck and Chet Baker.  And the club still regularly books the creme of the jazz world, recent and upcoming visitors include legends such as Chick Corea and Al Di Meola.

The club has a house band, the Ronnie Scott's All Stars, an exceptionally talented trio who consistently keep the atmosphere cool, regardless of what other bands happen to be visiting. 

Ronnie Scott's is open 7 days a week, and with the demand due to legendary reputation, booking is essential. The food is also of a very high quality, offering meals of a higher standard than your regular jazz club. Examples include smoked mackerel with river eel mousse, and Scottish fillet steak. Sure, it'll cost you, but good eating and good music seems too good to miss!

47 Frith Street, Soho, W1D 4HT

See upcoming events at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club

The Jazz Club, The Crypt

Listening to music in a crypt under a church seems a bit more Goth than jazz, but the jazz underground is very much alive, beneath Camberwell Church, and it's been serving up live sounds since 1995.

Supposedly set up by a church minister with a strong fondness for music, The Crypt's eerie and murky atmosphere is the perfect compliment for sultry jazz and intimate drinks with cool people. Lit by candlelight, and with an occupied tomb behind the bar, the ambience is intense. Patrons sit on pews at wooden tables, packed closely to the corner stage, getting right up close to the band.

Some patrons have described the atmosphere like a 'grotto', and if you are lucky you might be served drinks by the vicar, dog collar and all. Surprisingly, The Crypt sometimes plays host to a 'virtual jazz club', which streams live jazz performance into the online world of Second Life. For more info check out: jazzliveinsecondlife.com

The Crypt is usually alive on Fridays between 6pm-1am for the Jazz Club. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, live music was suspended whilst much needed renovation took place (ever the plight of Churches it seems). We're hoping to see it open again soon.

64-68 Camberwell Church Street, London, SE5 8JB

Vortex Jazz Club

The Vortex Jazz Club may very well be London's most progressive jazz venue. More than a club, Vortex has it's own record label and is staffed entirely by volunteers. They run it as a non profit, with all proceeds being invested back into the club's activities. Though it calls itself a jazz club, it strays a little further musically than most of London's jazz outfits. On it's Twitter page it calls itself  "a jazz club with experimental hue; free-jazz / free improv / contemporary jazz / contemporary folk / electronic music / contemporary classical".  Which seems very appealing to the open minded music lover. Ever tried free jazz?

A few years ago Vortex relocated from Stoke Newington to the Dalston Culture House. The building itself is pretty cool, an oddly colourful cube, four storeys tall, with what looks like another cube protruding out the top. It calls itself a 'cultural centre and arts workspace'. Upstairs is a studio which is home to a fabric design firm and a therapeutic arts group.

The drinks at Vortex are more fairly-priced than some of the *ahem* more prestigious jazz clubs and there's no requirement to consume a substantial meal if you are drinking alcohol. Live music plays seven nights a week, and food is a The Vortex Downstairs.

It can get a bit cramped in there (is this a jazz club thing?) but the atmosphere is open and friendly. And as a bonus, it's located very close to Dalston Kingsland station, which makes it easy to get to! So no excuses for not going...

11 Gillett Square, Dalston, London, N16 8AZ

See upcoming events at Vortex

Words: Jack Oughton

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